Monthly Archives: May 2018

Record Of The Week # 44

May 29, 2018

Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

There is a movement of angry souls who feel that the ‘Big Three’ record companies have hijacked Country music (and Nashville) and now clog US radio with ‘Bro-Country’. This sub-genre is where the money is and it is maddeningly narrow in terms of gender, type of tune, instrumentation or lyrical content.

As I step back and look at the artists – usually photogenic males between 25 to 35 years old – I temper my disappointment as not every chart success coming from Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt and Brett Young is unacceptable. However like an invasive species of animal it has evicted artists who are certainly female and purvey anything approaching the historic legacy of Hank, Merle, Johnny or Dolly. That is, a three minute soap opera of a story, lashings of pedal steel or any deviation from sub-Rock n’ Roll.

Maybe in another place I should expand on the failure of traditional Country music to remain contemporary rather than blaming some fat cat record executive, on the 31st floor of a sky scraper, who has no appreciation of the heritage and is funding vacuous ditties about tight black dresses, cold beer and pick up trucks (on a Saturday night).

If keepers of the flame are in retreat then there still are signs of life. Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Margot Price and Lee Ann Womack are shifting considerable units whilst self righteously declaiming Nashville. Some recent music from the above has been fabulous but I’m taken with the emergence of the songwriters getting in front of the microphone rather than their clients.

Brandy Clark is now well known and ploughing her own furrow whilst being accepted on her own terms. Exceptional music presented in a very understated way with few frills, rock riffs, photo shoots or sponsors selling fried chicken (Reba, what were you thinking?). Other interesting songwriter releases in 2017 came from Kendell Marvel, Travis Meadows and Radney Foster. However, Erin Enderlin’s wondrous 2017 USA release Whiskeytown Crier is a tonic for those losing their faith about the absence of exquisite talent writing and singing traditional Country music. In June 2018 it makes its UK debut.

Enderlin has already had some compositions picked up and made popular by Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan and Lee Ann Womack but it is timely for her to get some personal recognition.The simple arrangements and instrumentation takes us back to the 1990’s with just enough accompaniment to leave the vocals and sentiment as your focus. If you were looking for an album dripping with staggering Country melodies saturated with melodrama and heartbreak then surely this is it.

She’s been a Nashville resident for nearly 15 years and has called on some very illustrious friends to help her. Jamey Johnson has had a hand in the production and former flat mate Chris Stapleton lends his vocal talents to a couple of songs.

“Baby Sister” starts the album with that mischievous Brandy Clark “Stripes” vibe. Her sister has problems with her disappearing with her former beau:

“See, my sister Gina, she always was the pretty one
Just like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
She coulda had any man so I thought he was just another one
Till that no tell motel shotgun epiphany”

She turns up with a pistol to break up the tryst. An assertive vocal with a flat drum beat starts with her laying out the case for the defence whilst name checking Reba and setting the Country music landscape of motels, firearms, potential hospitalisation and the volatile nature of relatives. Add a killer chorus and you have a winner. 

The single “Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy” places us in a world of heartbreak and resignation as she expands on the reality of sharing her man. In four and a half minutes we get a whole Box Set of pain where the characters reveal themselves. Ultimately his fake affection is accepted with Enderlin reflecting that maybe the failure is hers. It is all beautifully told with her strong and expressive voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar. The chorus hails a tasteful pedal steel and harmonies. The pace and finger prints of Jamey Johnson seem to be all across the track.

“When Broken’s All You Know” picks up the threads of two lost and reckless souls in a relationship from the wrong side of the tracks. She leads us through the inevitability of fracture and the decision to give away her child so that it has the best chance of escaping the downward spiral their lives follow. On this slow paced acoustic classic she gives her most accomplished vocal performance; it’s incredible that she hasn’t found the charts herself. Stapleton shares the harmonies. 

“His Memory Walks On Water” deliciously reveals her Southern accent. A lyric starts with a man’s death and the longing that his daughter has for a positive memory. This tragic yet distorted recollection of him has him “like John Wayne in a Cadillac” despite the reality that he was pretty useless and a drunk. It is Country music pathos played out with pedal steel and your heart strings.

I could keep describing each song, as they are all as captivating. She co-wrote them all barring the two covers. Those illustrate her references with Gram Parson’s “Hickory Wind” and “’Til I Can Make It On My Own” co-written and made popular by Tammy Wynette. On the latter she manages to bring that world weary yet resilient determination that the original had.

If you been waiting for the brilliant ladies of Country music to re-appear with gold then you’re patience has been rewarded. This would nestle comfortably alongside anything by Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, Nanci Griffiths and the best of early Reba McEntire. Guess what’s at the top of my ‘end of year list’ at the moment!

Claridges, Puffins & Pick Ups – Week 18 : 2018

May 16, 2018

With TV personalities Ben Turnbull and Stephen Fry going public on their battle with prostrate cancer it is something that crosses the mind of all men of a certain age. In fact a dear ex-brother in law has been dealing with this challenge for some time. Like most readers then I can think of at least 5 other friends with the condition. So when urinary issues arise and you feel should go to the doctor it is not the happiest event. I trooped in and despite reassurance that the tests for prostrate cancer and possible diabetes were precautions then I went through a difficult 10 days before I sat in front of him again to hear the results. The upshot was that I was fine as regards the big questions. Some things had changed and pills were prescribed. Frankly I’m not sure if I’ll take the pills as I’m just so damn glad that I’m as well as I am. As everyone says then you need to be vigilant and pro-active about these matters. You do.

I don’t have much affection for small animals (although I did enjoy my daughters when they were under three foot tall) yet I am grateful to puffins. The present Mrs Ives is very sniffy about a ride in the Morgan. The lure of the wind in her hair, a country pub and the admiring glances from all and sundry doesn’t overcome the cramped space, the nigh on yoga position to exit the car or the absence of suspension. However the Yorkshire chapter of the Morgan Sports Car Club circulated details on a trip to Bempton on the East Coast to have a spot of lunch and view various birdies: she was very enthusiastic. Heaven forbid there aren’t any there.

My Southern daughter has an expensive taste in champagne. Despite celebrating her birthday with Prosecco I was despatched by my first wife to Waitrose, with the Favourite Eldest Daughter (FED), to buy a ‘proper drink’. Bollinger was on offer. Unsurprisingly it was sold out by the time we reached the aisle and so we selected some Pol Roger at the discounted (!) price of £37.50. Of course you know that it was Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne. If it’s good enough fro Winnie then it was good enough for FED.

She does dip in her pocket on occasion and with her sister (FYD) she took her mother and I to afternoon tea at Claridges. It is a truly delightful setting with attentive service where seemingly nothing is too much trouble. There were endless sandwiches and cakes as well as a glass or two of champagne (again!). This was our second visit and it was as wonderful as before and I expect it won’t be our last trip either.

What’s the fuss over a Blue passport? Who doesn’t have one (or a cravate)?

Steve Jessney of Nothin’ But The Blues fame on Vixen 101 had a spare ticket for a gig in Hull and we went across for a splendid blues night with Ian Siegal. I was stood there thinking that I should be making notes on the artist and then submitting the copy to The Americana Music Show or Country Music People but I decided to have the night off. With his whiskey and cigarette voice he worked his way through a brilliant set with some fabulous guitar playing by his sideman, Dusty Ciggaar. He’s toured the UK many times and opined that the towns he had visited over the years had changed. Some of the rougher towns such as Liverpool, Belfast and Hull were now gentrified in their appearance. I think he was a little rueful and so was I.

Pick ups? As a man who likes the odd Country Music song then maybe I should be happy about the increasing number of pick ups trundling through our city centres? I’m just bemused at their UK popularity. They have minimal practicality and fuel efficiency. As regards having useful storage facility then they are limited and the space is exposed. (In North America, in the summer, when it rains then an hour later it’s dry and anything you put in the back isn’t damaged or stolen. In the UK this is hardly the case). The size is inappropriate for UK roads and parking bays. Yes, they are bright and shiny and go like hell but to think that there are some tax advantages for the tradesman who is showing off with a fast lorry for his weekend shopping is infuriating. At the moment the choice is limited but if every sparky or farmer buys one then the manufacturers will launch a wider choice, reduce prices and we’ll have more of these things. In the USA the most profitable vehicle Ford sell is their F-150 pick up. You’ve been warned.

Record Of The Week # 43

May 16, 2018

Ben Bostick – Hellfire

So you roll into a bar and on stage is your dream band. They’re loud, irreverent, tight, menacing and probably on the wrong side of too many shots of whiskey. Welcome to Ben Bostick and his sublime band (Hellfire Boys) on his second album, Hellfire. However this isn’t just a bunch of good time journeymen troubadours; Bostick is the real deal.

Bostick put together this album after a residency at a bar in LA and it fits the forte of the band perfectly. John Would (Warren Zevon and Fiona Apple) co-produced the album and the ‘live’ feel is evident from the first song. This sound was achieved by the band arranging themselves in a circle in the studio and playing live, without headphones, using stage monitors to hear the vocals. I was transported to Memphis, Sun Studios, as the energy hits you in waves like a series of short jabs.

However, it was in California that this South Carolina raised tour de force recorded these eleven tracks. You get the full nine yards of Americana – Country, Rock, Rockabilly and probably other sub genres that I’m not sufficiently engaged in to drag out here. Bostick’s other talents lie in being able to pen a superb lyric. He’s an English graduate with credentials in creative writing. Don’t worry – he doesn’t get precious but has an ability to find a killer couplet and perfect description.

“No Show Blues”starts the album with an off key plaintive howl. 

“I’m gonna go to the bank and cash out my account

Drive straight to the tavern and drink a disgusting amount

Spin my pistol and baby you better look out

Cuz wherever it points I’m coming to your town”

And welcome to the band – Kyle LaLoneon guitar shows his chops with a sizzling guitar solo as Luke Miller on a Nicky Hopkins-esque honky tonk piano adds flourishes in front of the driving rhythm of Cory Tramontelli’s bass and Perry Morris’ drumming.A wicked start.

If that was Americana then we’re headed for pure Johnny Cash Country with the title track, “Hellfire”. If you check the internet you’ll see a wonderful Bostick rendition of “Folsom PrisonBlues” and he brings a lot of that vocal and phrasing to this composition. The feel is just right not least with those thrashy and thumping drums. The lyrics are sublime with a 1960’s story of cold feet at the prospect of marriage and the dissolute solution of getting drunk in-between trips to church seeking redemption for his sinful ways! “Tornado” continues this style but this time he plays the hapless victim of a gal whose impact is this type of inclement weather.

“No Good Fool” is probably the most commercial song with his rich baritone tones warning his paramours that he’s good fun for the night but less reliable as a long term prospect. Maintaining that high energy the band cooks with Miller adding organ to the piano which continues to add texture and interest to the whole sonic picture.

“The Outsider” has angular guitar and deep resonating bass, which is more Iggy Pop than Music Row and pulls together the attitude of the album. This is how Bostick feels about himself and he’s said that in the confusion of what really constitutes Country music these days then maybe this is where his music falls. If you like your Country to have a slightly jagged edge with its feet definitely in contemporary Americana then pull up a seat; you will feast long and hard.